O’Kane Notebook II: Post-colonial Builder Stoked on Sweet, New Plane

Crown Above Fireplace in Blue Bedroom

Over the past week, we have been using up our supply of softwood wedges at the O’Kane House.  In the effort to gently remove the delicate, hand-planed moldings, we tap narrow wedges in along the paint lines, crushing the wedges with repeated use (and saving the edges of the trim).  It is a slow, thoughtful process and along the way, we speculate about what the original carpenters of 1790 might have been thinking.

There is strong evidence that the trim carpenter who finished the front hall and the upstairs bedrooms was thinking, “OMG, Can’t get enuf of this sweet, new reeding plane!”  The pattern of five 3/16 inch half round “reeds” is used to create a variety of decorations around the room.  So far, all of this molding has been hung with wrought nails.  The accordian lath behind it was hung with a combination of cut and wrought nails.  This was typical for the time period, according to A Building History of Northern New England, by James Garvin.  Cut nails broke more, but were less expensive to make, so a few wrought nails were used to hold the lath in place, and then the field was filled in with cut nails.  It makes sense to me that the carpenter wouldn’t risk breaking a cut nail as he hung his precious, hand-milled moldings.  It was worth it to stick with the more trusted technology, the wrought nail.

Echinus Molding in Front Hall

He used it in multiple runs adjacent one another to adorn the echinus of the pilasters next to the front door.

Fireplace Surround, Blue Bedroom

And he ran multiple passes on one 6 or 7 inch board that he then cut on the diagonal and reassembled to dress up the simple fireplace surround.

Reeding Plane Runs into Knot

We get sort of excited when we see mistakes like this one.  When we turned the board over, we saw the knot that caused the plane to go off-track.  I like to imagine commiserating with the post-colonial carpenter around the horse trough.  It’s evidence like this that will remind the client that he lives in a wholly handmade house.  There are some moldings that we may have to reproduce, and for short sections, it is easier to do by hand. If anyone out there has seen a plane like this one, please let us know.

For more photos on the process, check out the photos below, updated regularly with our daily finds.

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  1. Pingback: O’Kane Notebook XI: Demeritt Notebook? | Preservation Timber Framing

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